Not surprisingly, considering the events unfolding in Georgia recently, I have been engaged in discussions on race, racism, privilege, etc., for much of the week. The subject of race, as everyone knows by now, is fascinating to me. So complex, so revealing, so personal, so molded by family, experience, education, and a plethora of other variables.
My parents were from the south and were race people as they used to be called. They discussed race, racism, prejudice, bias, unfairness, etc., with us growing up. One thing they never did, however, was teach us to hate or even dislike white people. They were not ignorant enough to presume all white people were alike.
They emphasized that there are bad people of every race, but they did not whitewash the things going on in the Civil Rights Movement which was raging during most of my formative years either. They told me stories of growing up in Virginia and North Carolina that reflected not only bigotry but atrocities. They explained power dynamics, injustice, systems of oppression, and made sure I understood history, including the accomplishments of long dead to current era black people from Africa, America and the world.
Having Central State and Wilberforce close by, my mother working on the campus and my father being friends with many of the faculty and staff, there was always someone to help fill out my picture of race and racism and bigotry and its impact, and what it might mean to me, but always with a corollary of how blacks had overcome it and accomplished great things despite the attempted barriers and racism.
Growing up in Xenia I had few overtly racist experiences. I have yet, at my age no less, to be called a (racial slur) to my face. My only brush with open bigotry was a white man, one of my regular customers when I was 16 and a clerk at James’s grocery, telling me on a Saturday morning that he had no problem with my people but he hated those (expletive) Jews. I had no idea what he was talking about. He looked like he could be Mr. Rich’s brother to me.
But, race and racism are always just below the surface, especially in small towns. Xenia has always had a bizarre form of racism where some blacks are excused from being black and embraced by the white community, but that affection and respect is not extended to the general black population of Xenia, Ohio, America or the planet.
Racism will not disappear along with all of the evils it has in tow, until enough white people, the majority, decide to make it disappear. Until the tolerance for racism and racists where people can have friends and family express openly racist philosophies and statements and say nothing to challenge their beliefs has been dropped. Until people understand that racism hurts not only the object of the racism, but the racist, we will continue to act shocked when events like the murder in Georgia happens and pretend they are isolated incidents that have nothing do with us.
I have white friends and colleagues that make me look like a piker in the area of racial advocacy and writing and teaching. They are unwavering in their attempts to help get rid of racism and bigotry. But, they are, sadly, in a minority.
We have reached a crossroads in this country about race. You are either an ally helping to get rid of racism or you are an enabler of racism. There is no middle ground. What will you choose?
The answer is, to quote Dylan, blowing in the wind.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.